While she grew up on a dairy farm east of Masterton in the Wairarapa, working in the agri-sector wasn’t top of mind as a career path for Naomi Aporo when she left school. Now working for Māori-family owned Wakatū Incorporation, Naomi relishes the challenge of working for an organisation which is focused on both people and the land.

After completing a Masters of Business Management at the University of Otago, Naomi worked for Ernst & Young as a consultant. There she was involved in the development of a Māori sector client portfolio for advisory and delivering services to Māori clients, predominantly in post-settlement governance entity structuring.

Over the last ten years she has had a broad and varying career across areas such as strategy, operational modelling, organisational development, risk management, and capability development. Positions as Global Programme Manager and Learning and Development Manager at Fonterra was Naomi’s introduction to New Zealand’s primary sector.

Receiving an academic scholarship from Wakatū in 2004 led to a lasting connection, and eventually her current role as Programme Manager, where she leads strategic transformation initiatives. Based in Nelson, Wakatū has approximately 4,000 shareholders who descend from the original Māori land owners of the Nelson, Tasman and Golden Bay regions. Established in 1977 and now one of the region’s largest employers and private landowners, Wakatū is a multifaceted business, with a diverse portfolio from vineyards, orchards to residential properties, large retail developments, office buildings, marine farms and waterspace. Wakatū also has the responsibility of looking after land of cultural significance to its owners, and runs programmes which help keep the families of Wakatū connected and engaged with each other, their culture and the land.

Her current involvement with the agriculture sector comes through Kono, the incorporation’s associated food and beverage business. Kono is active in horticulture, growing apples, pears, kiwifruit and hops, as well as in seafood with koura (crayfish), greenshell mussels, and as owners of sustainable seafood company Yellow Brick Road. Their beverage brands include Tohu, Kono and Aronui wines, and Tutū cider; and they manufacture Annies 100% fruit bars. Kono is a vertically integrated company, from growing, producing and processing through to market.

“At Wakatū, we have the responsibility to ensure the use and development of our land and resources are sustainable and consistent with our tikanga. With our operation, our past is also part of our future. We interact with a range of people and are driven by our purpose to preserve and enhance our taonga for the benefit of current and future generations. I feel lucky I get to work with amazing people and in an inspiring organisation where I can add value.”

With a passion for New Zealand business and in particular Māori economic development and the natural world, Naomi also has an interest in governance. She has been appointed to the Māori Advisory Board for the NZ Land and Water Science Challenge. This appointment has provided Naomi with a deeper understanding of the role of science and technology in the next phase of New Zealand’s primary sector evolution.

“It is an area of agriculture I am most excited about! There are so many opportunities for the agri-sector and I feel lucky to be a part of it thanks to Wakatū.”

The primary industries are so diverse, and it is fantastic that you have found yourself in amongst such an interesting part of the sector Naomi. We look forward to following your journey ahead!